When a plane starts a rapid descent, the oxygen masks come down. The airline staff always say you should take care of yourself first, and take that oxygen mask for yourself.
But what does this have to do with business?
It starts with understanding a little bit of neuroscience. Brain anatomy teaches us that there is an amygdala or Lizard Brain - an ancient brain structure - that creates a "threat or reward" or "fight or flight" response to events. The main task is to protect ourselves by sending a warning signal when the environment is potentially dangerous. This powerful mechanism overlaps with the conscious processes in our brain. The lizard brain is hard to tame, especially if you are unaware of it. When a mind is in alarm mode, it is scarcely able to focus on being present, let alone analyse and search for a solution.
Now consider the last six months from the perspective of your lizard brain. In addition to malware which is creating a threat response, there is also the current situation with COVID, isolation, a need to plan your food for the day, being in the same room with the same people for weeks on end, or just being lonely, or just missing your favourite coffee from the coffee shop you used to go on the way to the office. Everything has been testing your well-being and has been creating a threat response.
How does a threat response impact a business's efficacy? Directly. If your nature is busy surviving in an ocean of negativity and threats, you are unable to work. A person being in the threat response state is scarcely able to innovate, create, solve problems.
Well.... Does your job require you to be a creative out-of-the-box thinker? If so, your business is at risk.
Now imagine, that it was not a single employee who was at risk, but the entire company. It is a real threat that poses real risks for the business. That's why well-being programs have skyrocketed in popularity from luxury perks to mandatory workplace activities. Some companies are hosting workshops and presentations to increase awareness; others provide office furniture, mental health support programs, online yoga classes, meditation workshops and so on.
When people are dealing with stressful situations, the idea of putting yourself first is not new and supported by an extensive literature. Almost every day, one can find a blog or an article on this topic. But still, we find people who are not convinced. So many of us are confronted by all these "Do" s and "Don't" s. Too much information causes information overload and resistance. The idea of putting yourself first becomes harder to sell. In the workplace, some employees are also questioning whether it is a genuine policy to take care of yourself, or it is just to show that the company is abiding by their stated values of putting people first. One of my clients once said, "Amid so many redundancies on the market, it's obvious that only the most hard-working people will be kept." Sounds reasonable…and you may feel this person's stress level rising.
However, working hard does not require a 14-hour workday. Neuroscience says that it's impossible for anyone to focus on tasks for 8 hours, let alone 12, or 14 hours at once. It's also counterproductive to do a few tasks at the same time. It's like trying to highlight two areas with one torch. Your brain has limited resources, and it needs to be recharged. Working and living to the limits of one's capacities can't last long. You can't pour tea into a cup from an empty teapot without risking professional burnout.
Unfortunately, this is the year the world has faced the greatest uncertainty. We don't know how long it may last. It's obvious that the challenge will pass, and what is really important in this kind of challenges is to maintain resilience and to cross the finish line in the best possible condition.
Early Signs of Professional Burnout:
increasingly cynical or negative outlook;
constant feeling of tiredness where rest doesn't help;
losing interest in social connections, such as replacing verbal communication with messaging or not replying to emails;
disengagement from one's job;
bad habits are getting worse: alcohol, junk food, long hours online, etc.
more frequent low-grade illnesses (headaches, stomach aches, fatigue, colds, etc.)
NB: Burnout syndrome is quite a tricky condition. It is not something that happens overnight. It gradually creeps on you and the moment when you are starting to feel bad, it's already got ahold of you. The best way to deal with it is to be aware of it and how to avert it. Know the risks of not taking action. Burnout transforms the state of your energy, and once you are within it, it's difficult to escape it. The Good news is that professional burnout can be tackled by changing one's lifestyle.
Change your daily routine: enough amount of sleep, healthy food, time outdoors and exercising every day are vital in maintaining resilience;
Do not underestimate the power of social relations. It has been proven many times that strong personal relations both at work and in private life contribute a lot to one's sense of fulfilment and happiness. In times of stress, don't neglect to meet with friends and family; share your life, including sorrows and joys, with them;
At work, transparency in your teams will help to identify problems in advance. Help each other to navigate through uncertainty, work on planning, and make your goals obviously achievable;
Reach out if you need support. Friends, colleagues or professionals can all play their part.
Practice self-compassion. Give space to yourself. Redefine your commitments to yourself. For example, I swapped my HIIT to Yoga training.
Allow yourself to be imperfect.
Nothing lasts forever; when you accept that a situation is beyond your control, that doesn't mean it will always be that way.
If you have looked at your limitations, you are closer to knowing how much you can do. Then you can avoid being too demanding of yourself, and take on those tasks that are within your grasp.